gree of poverty: Garrett et al. (1994) found that as the income-to-needs ratio increased, the quality of the home environment increased. Moreover, the severity of the impact of socioeconomic status (SES) on the child’s development appears to be highly responsive to the number of risk factors that characterize the home environment; poverty alone would predict an impact far smaller than poverty in the context of a single-parent home with low parental education and maternal depression (Sameroff, 1989).


The preschool period is a time when the environment in which children develop can contribute to large differences in language and literacy skills. Before children can actually read, they generally acquire some sense of the purposes and mechanics of the reading enterprise. For some children, opportunities to learn about reading are many, and for others, they are few (McCormick and Mason, 1986). Those who can identify letters and are familiar with the concept and purpose of print are considered “reading ready” (National Research Council, 1998). Reading readiness at school entry is highly correlated with reading ability in the primary grades (Hammill and McNutt, 1980; Scarborough, 1998).

The National Center for Education Statistics recently published the results of a survey of America’s kindergarten class of 1998–99 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000). The survey recorded the number of first-time-to-kindergarten children with literacy skills that are prerequisites to learning to read: knowing that print reads left to right, knowing where to go when a line of print ends, and knowing where the story ends. The results: 37 percent of first-time kindergartners could do all three of these skills, but 18 percent could do none of the three (Table 3–1). As they enter kindergarten, 66 percent of children recognize their letters, 29 percent recognize beginning sounds in words, and 17 percent recognize ending sounds (Table 3–2).

Several factors, including gender and age, affect test results. Girls perform better than boys in the test, and the age of the student at first entry matters. The latter variable in particular suggests that normal developmental processes are at work in the development of literacy skills. But environmental factors are clearly

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